TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2015
It is very easy to watch Robert Altman's sprawling, improvisational take on all things `70s America' (as depicted by Nashville's 'dog-eat-dog' country and western scene) and to wonder what all the fuss was about back in 1975. After all, the film's first hour of meandering character introduction in Altman's 'post-hippy', post-Vietnam, post-Watergate world appears to be going nowhere and (what's more) there's all that C&W music (I cast my mind back to John Peel's definition thereof!). But, actually, what (for me) becomes apparent on 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc, watch is that (once again) Altman has coaxed some career best (or very close to career best) performances from an expansive and disparate cast (Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Karen Black, Barbara Baxley, Barbara Harris, Michael Murphy, Gwen Welles, newcomer Ronee Blakley, etc) and succeeded in stitching together a highly ambitious human drama - in a 'tale' of jealousy, grief, delusion, love, pretence, vanity, mental breakdown, political manipulation, corporatism, etc, to match (or, at least, get close to) his 1993 masterpiece, Short Cuts - as well as giving us one of the most cutting (and subtle) satires on the American dream ever to reach the cinema screen.
What precisely prompted Altman to send collaborator and screenwriter, Joan Tewkesbury, to this particular (Tennessee) city and 'make notes' (to be used as the basis for the film) is not clear (even from the film-maker's interviews on the subject) - though, it is not surprising that 'the city' reacted negatively to Altman's film, purportedly because the music (self-written, remarkably, by the actors performing the songs) did not find favour with the locals, but also (I suspect) because of the film's predominantly cynical take on (what happened to be Nashville) humanity. To tie his ambitious `soap opera' together Altman devised a number of narrative devices - the political thread as evidenced by the (anti-government) Replacement Party (whose 'roaming van's' commentary works in tandem with Michael Murphy's obsequious party apparatchik, John Triplette) and the film's dramatic denouement, as well as Geraldine Chaplin's brilliant turn as (allegedly) roving (and starstruck) BBC reporter, Opal, and Jeff Goldblum's mysteriously silent and omnipresent motor tricyclist.
A particularly striking feature of Nashville is the naturalism of the acting - attributed by Altman to the fact that these (largely self-written) characters reflected the actors' own personalities and sentiments. And, as Altman's drama ratchets up in intensity (admittedly from a pretty low base) in the film's second half, we get many powerfully emotive scenes - most notably for me, the exploited gullibility of (the brilliant) Lily Tomlin's well-intentioned wife, Linnea (a character the actress was to largely reprise in the later Short Cuts), the distraught 'Kennedy rant' by Barbara Baxley's Lady Pearl, the personal tragedy of Keenan Wynn's Mr Green (calling to my mind Jack Lemmon's turn in Short Cuts), the 'fall from grace' of Ronee Blakley's established C&W star, Barbara Jean, the devastating humiliation of Gwen Welles' 'aspiring star', Sueleen Gray and (of course) Keith Carradine's delivery (to admiring eyes) of the song I'm Easy.
It's a film which benefits from (and arguably requires) repeat viewings.